A Retirement Recipe for Advisors Short on ‘Cooking’ Skills

Many clients are in a quandary trying to figure out how to plan for retirement. Often, their advisors lack the specialized knowledge, apart from the necessary financial smarts, to help them.

“The hundreds of thousands of investment- and insurance-focused advisors … in the product lane [are] faltering because they can’t address their clients’ questions” about retirement; they lack the “expertise,” argues Marcia Mantell, founder of Mantell Retirement Consulting, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

To fill that gap, she wrote a new book, “Cookin’ Up Your Retirement Plan” (December 2022, Mantell RC), an interactive, reader-friendly decision guide on how to create one’s unique plan for retirement.

The title comes from Mantell’s analogy that building a retirement plan is like making a lasagna: You do it layer by layer, making darn sure that the underlying layer is sturdy.

For the plan, that means Social Security or a pension, Mantell says in the interview.

As it happens, cooking involves the higher-level thinking processes of executive function, initiation, planning and organization, according to the National Library of Medicine.

That’s just what creating a successful retirement plan needs, too.

Mantell, 61, is a popular public speaker with mastery of the intricate ins and outs of Social Security and Medicare.

She is the author of “What’s the Deal With Retirement Planning for Women?” and “What’s the Deal With Social Security for Women?”

As a consultant, she creates retirement income programs and workshops for advisors and their clients, as well as for employees of large firms.

A small side consultancy she has steers baby boomers and older Gen Xers away from bewilderment to retirement-planning clarity, using her book as a guide.

In the book, she presents templates for three plans: ideal, alternate — which could be even better than the ideal — and Plan C, for when something terrible suddenly happens. She discusses all three in the interview.

For more than a decade, Mantell, who develops curriculum for the Investments & Wealth Institute (formerly IMCA), was a vice president in retirement product marketing at Fidelity Investments.

She is particularly focused on baby boomers, which led to the creation of her blog, Boomer Retirement Briefs.

In addition to her work, she spends “an inordinate amount of time” in the kitchen, which well qualifies her to write about making lasagna.

One of her favorite creations is a fancy spinach-and-mushroom dish with béchamel sauce.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Mantell, who was speaking by phone from her base in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

She recalled that her new book stemmed from phone calls from people who had read her work or saw her presentations and were lamenting, “I’m trying to figure out this retirement thing, but I don’t know where to start.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: My sense is that you’re trying to change the financial services industry’s approach to retirement planning. Am I right?

MARCIA MANTELL: That’s exactly what I’m trying to do — change the conversation, fill the gaps that I see. It’s hard, though, especially for advisors or annuity brokers, who have to sell and produce.

I “get” that. But that’s not what [consumers] need. People are trying to figure out how to retire.

What do you suggest?

We aren’t going to make those advisors planners. So let’s help them empower their clients. My [book’s approach] might be a way, especially for getting the women in the game.

“Cookin’ Up Your Retirement Plan” spins on making a lasagna as analogous to creating a retirement plan. Who does your book target specifically?

Two groups: anybody who’s 50 to 65 and wants to find out what their transition to retirement will be like.

The other group is the advisors. If you’re an advisor with a large share of business coming from planning, the book isn’t for you. You’re already doing lots of this.

Which type of advisor is it for, then?

All the other advisors who are investment or insurance people who are in the product lane. I see them faltering because they can’t address their clients’ questions.

And there are hundreds of thousands of advisors who are insurance- and investment-focused.

Their clients want something that the advisors say they don’t have expertise in.

So how would those advisors use your book?

Put it on a bookshelf as a recommendation: “Here’s a guidebook that will walk you through the different considerations you need to have. When you get to the end, let’s talk so I can make sure the investments are on track for what you need.”

Or they could send clients a link to the book or give them a copy. I sell it to advisors in bulk at a 50% discount.

Is the book a financial plan?

No. It fills a gap in the way the industry does retirement planning. It has all that missing information.

When you meet with your advisor, they’ll [typically] tell you that, since last quarter, or last year, your assets have — hopefully — increased, your portfolio has been rebalanced and they’ve done some tax loss harvesting for you.

Our entire industry is built around charts, data, analysis and legalese. That’s very unappealing to [lay people].